Best Family Hikes in ASRA

By Jim Ferris


Want to go on a hike with the family...take  all the children--from toddlers to teenagers--… bring the dog along…see beautiful woods and streams…and feel safe and comfortable?  Impossible in your backyard?  Not really, if you visit the confluence area of the Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA) below Auburn.


While ASRA encompasses some 43 thousand acres, mostly steep canyons and dense woods bordering the North and Middle Forks of the American Rivers, with over 50 trails, some more remote and strenuous than others, there are many wonderful family hiking paths that may be enjoyed by the whole family.  If you have a good topo map or a trail guidebook (see sidebar for one recent publication) you can find many trailheads and hike through wonderfully diverse ecological zones affording exciting views of the canyons and rivers.  Read on and learn about a half dozen of the Canyon Keepers top recommendations for outings in your backyard.


To start your explorations without hassle, drive 3 miles south down Hwy 49 (El Dorado Street) from Lincoln Way in Auburn and park near the confluence of the N. Fork and M. Fork American Rivers. At the bottom of the canyon continue straight and park on either side.  Within a quarter mile of this location there are trailheads for a half dozen routes leading like spokes from the Confluence, up the N. Fork and M. Fork American River, up to Auburn and up to Cool. 


For those unfamiliar with this area, a great starting walk would be to follow the route of the 2.6 mile Confluence Interpretive Trail – A Self-guided Historic Bridges and Nature Walk that begins on the south-east side of the Hwy 49 Bridge.  A free illustrated trail guide is available at ASRA headquarters (located one mile below Auburn on Hwy 49) or at the California Welcome Center on Lincoln Way in Auburn (sees sidebar for more information).


Lake Clementine Trail


A personal favorite is the Lake Clementine Trail that follows an easy gradient for 1.9 miles along the North Fork American River, much of it in the shade of conifers and oaks and in close proximity to riparian flora and chaparral.  The marked trailhead is located on the left side of Old Foresthill Road, just across the Old Foresthill Bridge, about ¼ mile east of the Confluence.


This trail goes under the Foresthill Bridge, the highest bridge in California at 730 feet above the river, and the third highest in the U.S. About ¾ of a mile along this route you will see Clark’s Pool, a long and deep, clear rock-lined swimming hole that has been popular with locals for more than a hundred years.  This is an ideal place to cool off on a hot summer’s day when summer water temperatures are surprisingly warm. There is even a nice beach from which to wade into the river.


Continuing past easily visible rock abutments of a wooden covered toll bridge on the opposite side of the river, built in 1875 (and pictured in the display at the Confluence), this part of the trail uses a largely shaded roadway that was once an old stagecoach route from Auburn to a number of Gold Rush era camps. 


The Lake Clementine Trail proper ends at the paved Lower Lake Clementine access road.  If you are up to an additional 45 minute jaunt, follow the road about one-quarter mile and take a short side trail towards the river to an exciting view of  water cascading over the face of the North Fork Dam (beyond which lies 3.5 mile-long Lake Clementine).


Quarry Road Trail


One of the most user friendly trails within ASRA follows closely above the banks of the M. Fork American River from the edge of the parking area located on the left side of Hwy 49 ¼ mile south of the bridge. This wide multi-purpose (open to hikers, cyclists and equestrians) trail affords some of the finest scenery in the American River canyons.  The first 1 1/4 miles of the trail is the same route used in the early 1900’s by the Mountain Quarries Railroad that transported limestone from the quarry to Auburn.  It is a level roadway with picnic tables provided along the way up to the site of the old quarry.


Remnants of the limestone-loading platform can be readily seen by following the trail up a short hill above the picnic area.  At the top of the hill hikers are encouraged to take a short side trip. Following an unmarked trail (known as the PG&E Road Trail) uphill to the right, a 10 minute walk with a couple of switchbacks, leads to a spectacular amphitheater created by the quarrying operations nearly a century ago.


Returning to the Quarry Road Trail you may continue to trek upriver as far as Maine Bar -- 5.6 miles from the start.  At the two mile point the trail meets the historic Western States Trail.  In the river below, you can hear the legendary Murderer’s Bar rapids and a bit further on you will see what is left of the Mammoth Bar OHV area (almost completely destroyed by the late December 2005 flooding).


Lake View Connector Trail


The newest trail completed within ASRA (in 2003) serves as an easy to moderately difficult connecting route between the lake Clementine Trail and access road and the Foresthill Divide Loop Trail (popular year round with hikers and cyclists alike). As a standalone trail it also offers some great vistas of Lake Clementine while wandering for 3.6 miles through chemise and foothill woodlands. For trailhead access drive 3.2 miles on Foresthill Road from the I-80 Foresthill Exit to the Lake Clementine Road. A small parking area is ½ miles ahead on the left.  After parking walk back to the clearly marked trailhead which you passed on the right just before the parking area.


At about the 2.5 mile point there is a bridge spanning a seasonal stream and nice riparian corridor.  The next ½ mile ascends to the best vista point on the trail.  On the opposite hillside across the lake there is a large outcropping of limestone know locally as “Robbers Roost” (labeled “Lime Rock” on topo maps).  When Foresthill was still a booming gold mining town, a local band of outlaws reputedly used the rock as a lookout to spot and then signal when the stagecoach was en route from Foresthill to Auburn.


The next mile, mostly in shade, includes a number of open, sunny areas with colorful displays of wildflowers in the spring.  Near the trails end, there is a clearing and a path enters from the left providing a cutoff to the Foresthill Divide Loop Trail going towards Driver’s Flat.  A little further along, at a larger clearing, the Connector Trail ends and the Foresthill Divide Loop goes both left and right.  By going to the right you will reach the Foresthill Road in less than 0.3 miles where there is a small dirt parking area that may be used for shuttle parking if you don’t wish to return the same way.  (The loop Trail continues across Foresthill Road for another 8 miles and eventually returns to this intersection.)


Stagecoach Trail


No list of local favorite trails would be complete without including the Stagecoach Trail.  This historic trail offers great, bird’s eye views of the confluence area and the American river canyons.  It is an easy stroll down and a moderately strenuous walk up. We suggest starting at the confluence area.  The trailhead is just beyond the parking area and a green gate near the kiosk and port-a-potty and is marked by a sign “Stagecoach Trail to Russell Road.” You will begin this trail on the opposite side of the river from the Lake Clementine Trail.


About ¼ mile up from the start (the steepest part) the trail turns sharply left at the “Stagecoach Trail” sign.  You are now following the route of the original toll road built in 1852 known as Yankee Jims Turnpike and later as Old Stagecoach Road. (See American River Canyon Hikes for detailed historical notes on this and 20 other trails described.)  A short distance ahead the graceful arches of the Mt. Quarries RR Bridge (aka No Hands Bridge) come into view on the left.  At the one mile point, a bench provides an opportunity to catch your breath and enjoy panoramic views of the confluence area and the Mt. Quarries RR Bridge.  Look for the turkey vultures which are often seen here, flying low overhead riding the thermals.


Continuing up Stagecoach Trail, you pass open areas covered with California poppies in early spring as well as several riparian corridors, one of which has a small waterfall in winter and spring.  Just before arriving at the end of the trail, you pass Upper Stagecoach Trail intersecting on the right.  This offers an interesting alternative return route (follow signs for Stagecoach Trail).


Other family friendly trails


Two additional family friendly trails, from among the fifty odd designated trails within ASRA, which we would recommend are the Robie Point Firebreak Trail and the Olmstead Loop Trail. For directions and descriptions of these and other trails see the Canyon Keepers Web site or purchase a copy of American Canyon Hikes, available at

local booksellers, the California Welcome Center or the ASRA Park headquarters on Hwy 49.


Originally published in the Northern Gold Country Parents’ Resource Guide (2006-2007)